21 Natural Disaster Survivors Share The Exact Terrifying Moment They Knew ‘Shit Had Gotten Real’

via NOAA
via NOAA

1. Black Saturday

Black Saturday. Huge fucking bushfire that killed nearly two hundred people, injured four hundred and destroyed three thousand plus buildings including over two thousand homes, in Victoria, Australia in February 2009. Some of the people that died or were injured were people I knew or knew of.

We were a bit stupid; we’d moved from an area where bushfires were very rare and the yearly disaster of choice was floods. So we didn’t really have a plan in case of bushfire- which, if you live in a fire-prone area, for the love of God make one. So we weren’t listening to the radio, we weren’t packed to go, we didn’t have an escape plan.

The ‘oh, this is real’ moment was when I was standing on the top of a hill, overlooking the paddocks, the sky was black and orange and in the distance I could see this line of orange. And I went ‘oh, that’s pretty close.’

Then we just started hosing everything down, because it was too late to run. The fire got within five-ten minutes of us, my friend’s property was partially burnt, went up to their shed before the wind changed.”

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2. The Joplin, Missouri Tornado Of 2011

“I was a senior in high school in Joplin, MO when the tornado hit. My friends and I were on the highway driving home and the storm was right behind us. We pretty much flew down the highway going ninety and then barricaded ourselves in our friends cellar and when we came out, everything was flat and our high school had been leveled completely.”

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3. “You never want to see your house on cnn”

“I grew up poor on the Gulf, so we lived through a lot of the hurricanes. Our worst were Katrina, Rita, and Ike. The scariest part about them is how quickly they build up; you have 3-4 days of worrying, and then suddenly at 3am your parents pull you out of bed and order you to pack because of the mandatory evacuation. So that was always the first “oh shit”–scrambling into a cramped car in the dead of night, with just your vital documents and as much food and emergency supplies as you can fit, not knowing what will happen.

Second oh shit: Evacuating. Even at 3am, millions of people are evacuating, and that’s millions of cars backed up on every single road. You can’t waste gas on air conditioning, so it’s boiling hot and cramped in the dead of a Texas summer. You’d move maybe ten feet in an hour. The roads were so clogged that I remember people getting out of their cars and playing Frisbee on the interstate. If you’re close to the hurricane, it’s even more terrifying, it sounds like the sky is getting ripped open. We were lucky to have family to stay with, but that doesn’t stop the destruction. I remember watching CNN when Ike made landfall, realizing the flooded area and collapsed buildings looked familiar, and asking my mom, ‘Wait–isn’t that our neighborhood?’ You never want to see your house on CNN.

Third oh shit: Coming back. It always looks like those post-apocalyptic movies: houses ripped apart, streets flooded, trees torn out of the ground or splitting open buildings. Most of the dead are in their houses, but sometimes the bodies were washed into the rivers and streets. (BTW–graves float upwards in floods. The cemeteries were always torn apart, with caskets and corpses thrown everywhere and rotting in the wet sun.)

After Rita, because we were too poor to evacuate, we lived at home for a short while. No electricity besides the generator, no running water, no emergency services, living off MREs and boiled street water. Wild hogs and alligators prowled everywhere (chased out of their usual homes by the storm), and I remember playing in the huge felled trees in the streets. Lots of people kept watch with guns to chase off looters. It felt like living in a zombie movie. Eventually FEMA would show up, and you’d wait in line forever for your ration of bottled water and MREs while they tried to reconstruct everything. So that was the third oh shit–trying to figure out how you move on from there, after your area has been torn to shreds.

It was odd growing up and realizing not all kids understood the FEMA markings for how many bodies were found in a house. I know that should have been obvious, but FEMA was such a normal part of my childhood that it never occurred to me.”

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